Eight months ago, Lt. Gov. Mike Parson was eyeing retirement. His political career had stretched into its 25th year, and he’d risen from Polk County sheriff to Missouri lieutenant governor. “I thought, ‘Okay, this is probably a good place to finish,’” he says. “I’ve been blessed to have the career that I’ve had. So just finish this out and go home.” That was the plan. Then everything changed.
Barely a year into his first term as Missouri governor, Eric Greitens was thrust into the spotlight. An affair and allegations of blackmail and misuse of a charity donor list sent the Republican governor into a high-speed tailspin. Headlines threatening impeachment were rubber-stamped across the national media. Then on May 29, 2018, Greitens resigned. Three days later—as the state’s second in command—Parson became Missouri’s 57th governor, and plans of retirement and returning to the family farm in Bolivar were packed away.
Parson’s days are now spent traveling around the state where he meets with community leaders and hears from voters. Within his first 100 days in office, Parson visited 35 of Missouri’s 114 counties. Weekends spent back home on the cattle farm are rare, but Parson has always been a stickler about hard work. As he explains, long hours might be exhausting, but they lead to success.
Parson, 63, grew up on a farm in Wheatland, a rural city in Hickory County home to just 371 people today. The biggest draw in town is Lucas Oil Speedway, which hosts everything from bull riding to monster truck competitions. Parson’s dad raised hogs, cows and chickens, and the family’s vegetable gardens kept them stocked during the winter while the wood stove kept away frostbite. “Back then, it was how you survived,” he says. “It was tough, but we had everything we needed at the end of the day.”
By 1967, when he was 12 years old, Parson was helping out around the farm and hauling hay. At 14, he started working at the town gas station. “Apparently they didn’t know much about child labor laws,” he jokes. “I learned how to fix tires and pump gas and wash windows. It was hard work, but I enjoyed it.”
When he turned 19, Parson joined the Army and served two tours overseas. After six years serving in the Army Police Force, he returned to Wheatland. Life returned to normal, until one day Parson was fueling up at a gas station and learned the owner was looking to sell the business. The chance to become a business owner was dangling in front of him, and Parson bit. He eventually owned and operated three gas stations around town and expanded a little more with each purchase. As his gas station empire grew, so did Parson’s business goals. He and his wife, Teresa, began buying rental properties and farms and eventually launched their own cattle operation. The family still raises Angus cattle, though Parson’s new schedule has him joking that the cattle are “on the honor system” at this point.
Between the gas stations, rental properties and family farm, business was going well. Parson’s hard work was paying off, and his young family was growing. As he saw it, he was living the American dream: He had a successful cattle farm, a wife, two kids and a reliable roof over his head. Life was comfortable, and he wasn’t planning on making a big change. But Parson has never been one to shy away from opportunity, and around 1993, he was presented with one he couldn’t resist.